I read a novel that was published by a major UK publishing house over the summer, and in the middle of it, I came across a you’re that should’ve been a your. I blinked, but that was about it. It certainly wasn’t the first time I’d come across a typo or a small mistake in a traditionally published book, but I can’t remember the titles of any of the other books I found them in, and I wouldn’t have thought any more about this one except for having to come up with a topic for today’s post. As an experiment, I read through the book’s not-so-positive reviews on Amazon.co.uk, but found no mention of this typo. Everyone else had apparently forgotten about it as well.
But there’s no Typo Forgiveness for self-published books, as I’m sure you already know if you’re a self-published author. And there shouldn’t be. What’s interesting though is that the same rule doesn’t seem to apply to all. The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that readers read self-published books differently*.
There currently is a very detailed review of one of my books on Amazon that while kind and positive overall, remarks on grammar, specifically that I used ‘… and I‘ when I should’ve used ‘... and me.‘ (Among other things, some of which are genuine mistakes. I have yet to self-publish a perfect book, despite the involvement of editors and proofreaders. If that surprises you, I can only assume you’ve never tried to get 100,000 words you’ve been up to your elbows in for months or years absolutely perfect. And just think: what state would it be in without the involvement of professional polishers? Editing is NOT an option.) The reviewer assumes that this is a mistake that wasn’t caught by me or by my editor.
But I write my non-fiction like I speak: I want the reader to hear the words in their head in the same way they would if I were there telling them the story of what happened, sat beside them.
So ‘and I’ is not a mistake. It’s a choice.
I can’t convince the reader of that though. The one time I stuck my neck out and tried to—putting a note at the start of my short-lived novel about how despite it being set in the US, I was Irish, and therefore British English was used throughout—I was accused of being rude and defensive. What do you say to a reviewer who says that if a character is in New York they should be saying color in dialogue, not colour, regardless of where the author’s from?
I’ve read a lot of book reviews for both traditionally published and self-published books, and I think there’s generally a big difference between the two (when the readers know the book is self-published). The traditionally published reviews are always reviews, but the self-published ones tend to get more critiques—as if the book had been submitted to the reader in exchange for a manuscript assessment.
The bias isn’t limited to suggested grammar corrections, of which the one above is just a drop in the ocean (and a very nice one—they get much worse than that!). I think self-published books also bear the brunt of what I call The Book I Wanted To Read Syndrome far more than their traditionally published counterparts. The Book I Wanted To Read is when the reviewer tells us about the gap between the actual book and the book they wanted it to be, rather than what they thought of the book itself. Perfectly legitimate if the book implied it was going to be about cupcakes but instead was about banana bread, of course. I mean more like, again, doing a structural edit of the book rather than reviewing it on its own terms.
But here’s the thing: I’m as guilty here as anyone. I admit that I don’t think I can read a self-published book the same way I can read a traditionally-published one.
It’s kind of like watching Strictly Come Dancing (the UK—and original!—version of Dancing With the Stars). At the beginning of the results show, the professional dancers come out and do a routine. I watch this happily, knowing I’ll be entertained and that the dancers know what they’re doing. If one of them does something that looks a bit funny, don’t I immediately assume it was meant to be that way? But when the celebrity partners dance, it’s different. We don’t have the same ‘safe’ feeling that everything is in hand. I watch their faces for clues as to how well it’s going. If there’s a tricky step, I hold my breath for them. Don’t you?
Whether it’s a conscious decision or not, when I read self-published work my brain is set in a different mode. I can’t help it. But then that’s why I don’t review self-published books. I couldn’t be fair.
What do you think? Do you read self-published books differently?
If the answer is yes, why do you think that is? What goes through your mind when you come upon what you view as a mistake in a self-published book? If you’re a self-published author, how do you feel when you read such a thing in one of your reviews? Is there anything we can do to convince readers we’ve made choices, not errors? Take the poll and then add your thoughts in the comments below…
Speaking of editing, I have a couple of guest posts coming up from Robert Doran, whose previous contributions were exceedingly popular. So stay tuned!
Until then, caffeinated wishes
Love, The Drama Queen
*If they know they’re self-published.